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Byzantine history of Lebanon Jo Ann Lawrence | May 14, 2012 http://beaconnews.

ca/calgary/2012/05/byzantine-history-of-lebanon/ Author Mike Robinson travels to Lebanon Troy Media by Mike Robinson

In the past, many countries have laid claim to Lebanon. Mike Robinson discusses rich history of Lebanon and life in current day Beirut My old pal Lloyd, a reindeer herder in the Western Arctic, once told me that most journalists come North in the summer, stay one week, and go home to write a book about their Arctic. Some, he added, stay a month and go home to write a pretty good magazine piece. But those who stay a year never write anything because they know too much.

On this principle, I venture to write about Lebanon on day eight of a threeweek trip to catch up with our daughter who lives in Beirut, and is working on her PhD in Anthropology. She speaks passable Arabic now and French, but still talks with me in English. So Dad, what are you going to write about? she says with a devilish grin. I almost called Lloyd for advice. Lebanon is different Here goes: I have a pretty eclectic travel career, ranging from Inuvik to Kyoto to Moscow, and Ive never been anywhere like Lebanon. Conceptually, in Canadian terms, it is like fitting all Canadians on Vancouver Island and calling it Canada. Culturally, densely, entrepreneurially, and linguistically complex, Lebanese society is home to 18 official religious sects, including: Shiite, Alawite, Ismaeli, and Sunni Muslims, and Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Gregorian, Syrian Orthodox, Jacobite, Nestorian, Chaldean, Copt, Roman Catholic, Evangelicals, Druze and Jewish, in only 10,400 square miles of territory accommodating four million people. Lebanon has been independent since November 22, 1943 when France finally began a leisurely three-year exit, ending just one of a Byzantine (youll hear more of them below) complex of colonial regimes that have included, moving backwards in time: the Arab conquest, a dynastic succession including Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Ayyubids, and Mamlukes (spanning 635 AD 1516 AD); the Crusaders interlude (1099 AD 1289 AD), courtesy of Pope Urban II in Rome; the Byzantine period (395 AD 635 AD), which confusingly to me at least, saw the Levantine city states opt for Christianity in the eastern half of the waning Pax Romana; the Roman Period (64 BC 395 AD), ushered in by General Pompey; the Helenistic Period (333 BC 64 BC), begun by Alexander the Great who thrashed Darius III of Persia for the honour; and the Assyrian/Babylonian/Persian hegemony period (1200 BC 333 BC). Take a breath if you are still reading, and dont forget that there will be a short quiz at the end of the article. Throughout all of the above listed colonial visits, the Levantine coast (i.e. lever, the verb to rise en Francais, as in Where the sun rises, or the Levant in English usage) has been ancestral home to the Phoenicians and their city states of Tyre, Sidon, and I think, Beirut and Byblos. These cities flourished during the Iron Age, from roughly 1200 BC to 333 BC, and gave

the world the alphabet I am using, in this piece, purple dye immortalized by the prophet Ezekiel, and Jane Jacobs favourite trading culture. Yesterday we had lunch at Pepes caf in Byblos, overlooking the small, deep and stone-wall fortified harbour that has been serving local traders and their customers for 7,000 years. Continuously. Near the early end of this time-line, the Chalcolithic Bronze age was in full swing, and we know this because of recent archaeological finds of bronze fish-hooks dating to 4,000 BC. More properly, a city-state from 6,000 years ago, Byblos is the worlds longest continuously inhabited city. It also lent its name to a book: the Bible. The prehistory of Lebanon extends back at least one million years. An agricultural and pastoral economy first arose in Lebanons eastern Beqaa valley about 9,500 years ago, not long after the Mesopotamian villages that started the whole agricultural slow food movement in the Fertile Crescent. Letter writing between the Egyptian pharaohs and the Levantine city-states started in the 14th century BC, heralding the modern era of postal communication. Full disclosure: I owe all of the above new knowledge to dutiful notation in my Moleskine notebook during a three-hour stint at the National Museum, beautifully rebuilt after being structurally destroyed in the violent Lebanese civil war (1975 1990). With astonishing foresight, the curators hid most of the smallest artefacts, and encased the largest in concrete as the fighting began. Life goes on Yes, I said civil war. Not well understood to me, and today not spoken of with anything approaching desire, for 15 years Beirut was divided in two along the infamous Green Line, with Christians to the east and Muslims to the west. Thousands of people died in an urban conflict that left artilleryravaged hulks like the Holiday Inn still standing down the road from our hotel. Peace was achieved in 1990 under the Taif Accord, whose constitutional deliberations were assisted by Saudi, Moroccan, and Algerian presidential mediators. A new government charter addressing the age-old Muslim Christian balance of power, saw the National Assembly expand to 128 seats, equally divided between the faiths. Local militias in Beiruts many faith-based

neighbourhoods were stood down from active duty, but even now a strong Lebanese military presence visibly patrols key civic infrastructure. Tonight in the densely populated urban core of Beirut, the cafes on Hamra Street will start to serve diners sometime after 9 p.m. Tables at street-side will soon be filled with extended families who have overflowed from their adjacent apartment towers into a night filled with the pungent and competing odours of jasmine, taxi exhaust, freshly baked bread and hummous. Life goes on, just as it has in this part of the world for over 9000 years. Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in BC. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back In Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds.